Stan Farnsworth was the first full-time staff member at NovaCentrix, which is a leader in photonic curing tools, material, and expertise enabling development and production of next generation printed electronic devices. NovaCentrix was founded in 1999, and Stan saw the company through its phases of business development and its near-shutdown in 2007. The company’s investors looked to him to provide leadership and direction as the company started, staffed, and scaled. Now, they employ 65 employees right here in Round Rock, although their journey to success was no easy one.
Stan’s previous graduate school advisor and the founder of the company, Dr. Dennis Wilson, did not have the “how to” for running the company and looked to Stan and his operations and management experience to do the job. Stan, a mechanical engineer by trade, underwent a crash course in strategic marketing to ensure the product development work they did was matching the market needs. He hit the ground running in identifying team members who could understand technology and effectively communicate this technology to the right audience.
Series A funding allowed the company to start their initial production; however, after engaging the market, they quickly learned that the products were not the right fit for their customers’ needs. Luckily, the investors were committed to the technology and the team. They provided guidance and mentorship as well as funding while the team (and Stan) organizationally came into their own.
Stan wrote the Series B funding and business plan, which was successfully closed in 2002. Throughout this process, Stan learned how to work with venture capitalists and became even stronger in technical communications and marketing. He and his team researched to see if the product capabilities aligned with potential customers’ needs. They discovered that there was still a profound mismatch between their products and their customers’ needs. However, this mismatch was not a demonstration of a product that lacked value; rather, it showed them that they were ahead of their customers. The customers didn’t know that they needed their products yet. The team focused their energy on ensuring that when the customers did realize their needs that NovaCentrix would have the right product embodiment to fulfill the needs.
Luckily, this realization occurred just in time to avoid a company shut down in 2007. This realization led instead to NovaCentrix privatizing and continuing technological development while still developing sophisticated customers. There eventually came a point when the market further developed and realized it needed the products, and Stan’s team shifted from observational research to branding to these needs. Now, NovaCentrix is one of the most credible and well-known producers in their market space.
Uncertainty was prominent throughout the early years of NovaCentrix. Stan recalled, “We were pivoting before pivoting became cool. It was entrepreneurial survival.” Stan noted that it can be hard to understand if you’re holding onto a product design due to personal bias or if you’re misreading the crystal ball. However, he had a few key pieces of advice for navigating the uncertainties:
- Don’t have blinders. Stay alert for things you might learn that could affect your business decisions. Stay receptive to lessons that might affect what you do.
- Look for mentors. These mentors can come from a lot of places and can help you learn how to run your business effectively.
- Be blindly optimistic. There is every reason in the world for why a new business might fail and if you get hung up on these then you won’t do anything.
- Have a vision and a direction. These can fortify you in the face of setbacks.
- Be balanced and maintain a sense of adaptability. Persistence combined with an ability to adapt is key to starting and growing a business.
- As you grow, understand and pay attention to the culture of your company. Make sure that your team fits with your vision and that you match your management style to your team members’ needs.